March 27, 2008

Photo du jour: They put up a parking lot

Except this one is not paved. The mid-block lot on the north side of Blake between Fulton and Shattuck has been vacant for the past four years, at least. I had plans for this lot: the 4B Habitat Project. The B’s are bats, bees, birds, and butterflies. Now - within the last month - it is a parking lot. Although it is unpaved, at least one half of the lot is compacted by through traffic. Note the parallel ruts in the second photograph.

December 2007

March 28, 2008

Cody's opens on Shattuck

Cody’s San Francisco outlet closed in 2007, ironically in April, the same month it will open its newest store in its home city of Berkeley, though not in its original location. The old storefront on Telegraph remains empty.

The posters on the windows predicted an April opening for the Shattuck at Allston store - and the website lists the official grand opening as April 1 - but Cody’s Books opened its doors today for Richard Price’s new novel, Lush Life. The bookstore relocated its Fourth Street inventory to Shattuck - a difference of more than 3,000 square feet - because of rising rents.

It’s good to see another empty (corner) storefront on Shattuck filled. Cody’s does not have to compete with Barnes & Noble which closed last fall, but there are two prominent bookstores in the area: Half Price Books on Shattuck at Addison and Pegasus Books on Shattuck at Durant (across from the old Barnes & Noble, now Staples, almost). In an interview with the Chronicle, Pegasus owner, Amy Thomas, wished Cody’s “a happy landing.”

March 25, 2008

ABCs of the Science Times

I am happily a weekly subscriber to the New York Times. In high school, the Science Times was my favorite section of the Times and after reading it this morning, it still is. In lieu of this weekend’s headlines, I’m blogging articles in today’s Science Times.

Efforts of dancing bees are often wasted on distracted audience

Link to global warming in frogs’ disappearance is challenged * Frogs - the species in question are really toads - are amphibians.

Bats perish, and no one knows why

Are we ready to track carbon footprints?

Tying neighborhoods to fitness efforts

And from the Berkeley Daily Planet, an article about the creek and museum plans for Oxford and Center Streets. Read responses to the article here and here.

Creek section below the “hazard” sign

March 19, 2008

Landscape elements of Strawberry Creek Park

Lately I’ve been hanging around Strawberry Creek Park - working with Affordable Housing Associates and scoping out a route and sponsors for the Berkeley Partners for Parks Spring event “Walk Bike Westbrae/ West Berkeley” sponsored with the Hidden Gems Tour and Berkeley Path Wanderers Association. You will recall that I’ve been on the Hidden Gems Tour. The Walk Bike event is planned for Saturday, May 10 with the walk portion starting at the Albany border and the bike portion starting at San Pablo Park, both at 10 a.m.

Looking north and south

So, I’ve been walking around and through the park and observing berms, swales, and desire paths. The berms and mid-park depression form a bowl for water retention. The berms on the northern side also provide privacy from Addison Street. The berms on the northeast and the south are heavily planted with trees providing two mini-woodlands/ groves. There is a bench beneath the northeast berm which provides prospect over the park, pictured below.

A swale runs along the eastern edge of the park (below). Although I did not see a storm drain at its end, I assume the swale captures, slows, and possibly cleans stormwater runoff before it reaches the creek for which the park is named.

The park features an element that was not designed: desire paths, pictured below. I noticed two, both on the southern edge of park, coming off the asphalt park below the southern berms and north of the creek bank.

See the Friends of Strawberry Creek website for information about creek segments.

March 17, 2008

Tree Walk: Urban forest and edible gardens at the SF Flower & Garden Show

Two BART trains and three buses. This was the route generated by to get me from Ashby to the Cow Palace, site of this year’s San Francisco Flower & Garden Show. Luck was with me. I took a direct BART to the city, met a friend for a long lunch, then took another direct BART to Balboa Park. At the Balboa station there was a shuttle waiting to transport visitors to the show!

I bought my half-day ticket in advance rather than at the door so I would definitely attend the show. I wanted to see the urban forest garden - “Healthy Communities Grow on Trees” - developed by the USDA Forest Service, California Urban Forests Council, and the Mandeville Garden Company, but I would not have a companion so feared that I would back out at the last minute. In addition to the urban forest garden, I also wanted to see the garden that was the subject of a San Francisco Chronicle series on the show: “Ripples and Rays” by East Bay designers Joy Lung and Christian Ehrhorn of Misty Morning Gardens. (Joy Lung is the sister of a friend).

I saw both gardens and discovered a third: “It Doesn’t Take a Hectare” by Sommersett Designs and Leiber Landscape Services, both of Walnut Creek, pictured above. (Note the hare sculpture by Phillip Glashoff and the play with the word “hectare.") The designers used the same plant palette in four different designs (pictured below). Plants included herbs, lettuces, Meyer lemons, and vegetables like radishes and celery. The marketing material, written by Shelley Somersett, APLD, of Somersett Designs, describes the concept as follows:

It doesn’t take a hectare to feed a family four square Heirlooms in the Cottage or on an Urban Roof Wine Country Tuscan or Berkeley “Locavore’ No GMOs are in our food, the nutrients are proof.

Take some dirt, add sunshine, clean water and fresh air, A designer for the garden and you’re half way there. When Edibles are planted, sustainable’s the fare.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner your neighbor too can share The earth still laughs in flowers, the chef’s gourment affair Feed a hungry neighbor, teach the world to share.

The primary draw for me was the urban forest garden. I have worked as both a community and an urban forester. (There is debate about the definition and scope of the term “urban forest” and thus urban forester; it is more accurate to say I was a street tree manager.) I am very interested in the ecosystem values of designed landscapes and wanted to see the interpretation offered by a major forestry agency like the U.S. Forest Service.

While I was familiar with information provided in the urban forest garden, it was the most uniquely themed garden at the show. The garden was aesthetically pleasing; this is very important to counter lingering misperceptions that ecosystem gardens or landscapes are unattractive. Also, the exhibition was well designed and educative. Numbered signs within the garden highlighted “sound urban forestry concepts.” For example, sign #7 encourages the removal of lawns and replacement with “grass-like species” like dwarf sedge, pictured below. The bench in the photograph was designed by West Coast Arborists using street trees.

Other urban forestry best practices include native plant choices to provide food and habitat for insects, birds, and other animals (sign #4 pictured above, right) and planting larger stature trees to generate environmental benefits like carbon and particulate matter sequestration and storm-water attenuation.

A large stature trees like a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) saves 6,010 kilo Watt hours and intercepts 6300 lbs of carbon and 26,900 gallons of stormwater over its lifetime. This compares to 3,270 kWh, 5400 lbs of carbon, 18 lbs of air pollutants, and 14,800 gallons of stormwater for a medium, ornamental tree like an evergreen pear (Pyrus kawakamii). Source: exhibit marketing material.

At the exit I was handed a flyer alerting me to California State Senate Bill SB1527 which proposes to sell the Cow Palace and convert the land to condos and a strip mall. For more information and a petition visit the Save our Cow Palace website.

March 16, 2008

Weekend headlines March 16, 2008

March 15, 2008

Blooming purple

March 14, 2008

Pi Day 2008 etceteras

Listening to Ira Flatow on today’s Science Friday, I learned, among other things, that National Pi Day is celebrated on March 14. Pi, as is in “the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter” and March 14 as in 3.14 (see the official National Pi Day and the Science Friday websites). March 14 is also Einstein’s birthday!

This plaza in downtown Oakland (below) would almost be a PIazza if it did not have the landscaped square. (Technically, a piazza is an open, i.e. “without grass or planting” square.) Notice the keep out sign for preservation.

Back to pi(e)s: if you don’t have one already, you should consider a backyard orchard. You could be celebrating Pi Day with a grown-in-your own-backyard fruit pie. If fruit is not your thing or you prefer pizza, why not order a pie from Pie in the Sky pizzeria on Center Street in Berkeley? However, backyard orchards are the latest “local-food movement” phenomenon, according to the New York Times, so plant a fruit tree or two, so can celebrate Pi Day 2011 or 2013 with your very own fruit pie.

March 11, 2008

Around Lake Merritt

Proposed improvements on Lakeshore Avenue

A brief excerpt from the poster above outlining the City’s position on tree removal around Lake Merritt (and other city parks):

There seems to be a philosophical difference between the approach of the City and that of some citizens regarding trees in urban parks. Some citizens feel that all trees should be left in place until they die, no matter what. The City takes the approach that trees in an urban park should be managed as one would take care of a garden at home.

March 9, 2008

Weekend headlines March 9, 2008

March 6, 2008

Selected South Berkeley zoning applications

Several weeks ago I saw a link to the City of Berkeley’s zoning applications map on the Daily Planet web site. I can no longer find this link but the South Berkeley applications are available here (and pictured below) and the North Berkeley applications are available here.

I visited several application sites in my South Berkeley neighborhood which are pictured below.

The houses at 2205 and 2201 Blake Street are beautiful examples of Victorian and Queen Anne architecture, which according to the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, were landmarked in September 2005. The online zoning application map must be outdated. The web site states that the Blake Street houses are initiating the landmark process. No dates are included on the web site.

The application for a takeout deli and coffee shop located at 2120 Dwight Way is a former printing shop. When I first saw the Dwight Way address I assumed it was the former deli - Roxie - at Dwight and Fulton which has been under reconstruction/ change of ownership for many months now. I am excited that there might be a coffee shop in this part of the neighborhood! I would be even more excited it a tea shop would open; the closest one is Far Leaves on College Avenue or Imperial Tea in North Berkeley.

Will the wireless telecommunications facility be built at 27121 Shattuck, site of UC Storage? I remember seeing numerous flyers affixed to utility poles contesting the facility.

Immediately north of UC Storage, a vacant lot (an old car show lot?) is the future site of a five story, 24 unit, mixed-use building. Great! This lot is unused, unattractive, and paved, so pioneering “wild greenery” have a difficult time establishing themselves. Herbaceous flowering plants, grasses, and shrubs and trees - and worms and soil microorganisms - would support bees, butterflies, and birds.

Another site of note is Modernaire, the new, expensive, modern-shelter ware store, at Dwight and Shattuck. It iss unrelated to the zoning applications theme of this post, but I wonder if it’s a foreshadowing of future development along south Shattuck. I was told that the car dealerships on south Shattuck - Honda, Volvo, and Nissan - might be moving to a new “auto row” near the border of Berkeley and Emeryville. The relocation would open up several large parcels along this stretch of Shattuck.

March 4, 2008

Tree Walk: Land of the oaks

This post began its life as a short essay about “what’s in a name.” I’ve long been interested in the use of natural elements to name places. Of course, it is ironic in a suburban context where streets and subdivisions are named for plants and animals that no longer inhabit the area, at least not in the numbers they did before development. Anyway, I’ve also been enamored of the large coast live oak at Oakland City Hall and thought the combination of place naming and oak trees would make a good post.

city hall oak

In 1852 the City of Oakland was officially incorporated from Rancho Encinal de San Antonio owned by Anthony Peralta. The translation is ranch of the oak grove of St. Anthony. The men present at incorporation considered An Antonio, Encinal Oak Grove, and Land of the Oaks, before settling on Oakland (Land of the Oaks, James Harlow, 1956).

Pre-incorporation, the Rancho Encinal de San Antonio hosted 900 acres of oak woodland in present day downtown Oakland (dissertation, David J. Nowak, 1991). The woodland had “approximately 1400 trees with fourteen percent tree cover within the stand” (Nowak, 105). According to Nowak, the oak woodland was the second most dominant vegetation type preceded by grass/ shrub/ marshland which covered 98% of the area. The third and fourth most dominant vegetation types were riparian woodlands at 350 acres with 110,000 trees and redwood stands at 175 acres with 13,000 trees. Total tree cover in Rancho Encinal de San Antonio is estimated at 2.3%.

Harlow (1956, 16) notes that Oakland’s “first name might have been Temescal.” The Peralta brothers named the creek that flows through the former ranch Temescal, possibly after sweat lodges (or temescalli) sited along the creek (see Wikipedia entry on the Oakland neighborhood).

Another Bay Area creek is named for something that used to be common along its bank. Strawberry Creek in Berkeley was so named for the strawberries that grew along its bank (Harlow). I wonder if daylighting plans for the creek include replanting strawberries. The option to pick your own fruit at a public creek-park would be another first for Berkeley.

Finally, back in Oakland, the Fruitvale district was named for orchards and fruit farms that were the dominant land use during the nineteenth century.

March 2, 2008

Weekend headlines March 2, 2008

Development transforms San Pablo eyesore San Francisco Chronicle

Pittsburg pipe dream Chronicle

Snowpack not satisfying state water officials Chronicle

Helping urban trees to thrive Chronicle Read other articles from the Green special edition: Threats – And Saviors – For The Trees.

[Berkeley] Council may face State in court to stop moth spray Berkeley Daily Planet

When houses arrived in 30,000 pieces New York Times

The way we eat: Sap happy [or maple syrup making by painter Marc Seguin and friends] Times Magazine

Preserving a forest and a philosophy [or how to “stay true” to the production of natural products] Times

Connection to mountaintop removal coal mining

I have been reading Michael Shnayerson’s Coal River with shock, sadness, anger, and hope. I borrowed the book after reading a review in the New York Times Book Review. Tonight I found out that coal extracted via mountaintop removal powers my home.* My electricity supplier is Pacific Gas and Electric. According to, PG&E “buys coal from companies engaged in mountaintop removal,” a practice that has devastating consequences not only for the physical environment, but also for social communities and physiological well-being. I encourage you to read Shnayerson’s book. One strategy to end mountaintop removal coal mining, the Clean Water Protection Act H.R. 2169, is being supported by Representative Barbara Lee. Click on the image below to find out your connection to mountaintop removal coal mining and for resources on how you can help to preserve Appalachian landscapes and communities.

* via Bootstrap Analysis.